Taylor, Charles Ghankay


Taylor, Charles Ghankay
▪ 1998

      In an ironic twist of fate, in 1997 Liberians elected as president the very man who had sparked the civil war that ravaged the country for nearly a decade. On July 19 former guerrilla leader Charles Taylor won an overwhelming 75.3% of the vote, with the runner-up, Harvard-educated former UN official Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, garnering a mere 9.6% in the balloting. Taylor's monopoly of the formerly state-owned national radio station (on which he was referred to as "His Excellency") and his handouts to the largely illiterate and impoverished electorate were some of the resources he used to win the election. There was also the fear that if Taylor did not win, he would again resort to force.

      Taylor was born on Jan. 27, 1948, in Liberia. He was a member of the elite Americo-Liberian ethnic group descended from the freed American slaves who colonized the region in the early 19th century. After receiving a degree in economics in 1977 from Bentley College, Waltham, Mass., he became director of Liberia's General Services Administration under Pres. Samuel K. Doe, a military leader who had gained power in a bloody 1980 coup. In 1983 Doe accused Taylor of having embezzled nearly $1 million in federal funds, and Taylor fled to the U.S., where he was jailed when U.S. officials found evidence to support the charges. Before he could be extradited, however, Taylor escaped from a Massachusetts jail and emerged in Libya to form the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a militia that invaded Liberia in late 1989. His forces advanced on the Liberian capital of Monrovia in 1990, but Taylor's bid for power was checked by rival factions; in the fray, Doe was killed. For the next seven years, the armed factions fought a bitter war, in which over 150,000 people were killed and more than one-half of the country's population were made refugees or were internally displaced. Although Taylor's dominant NPFL faction never took control of the capital, it controlled the countryside and plundered Liberia's rich natural resources. A 1996 peace pact led to the 1997 election.

      Taylor's administration faced tough challenges. Years of civil war had ruined the country's civil and economic infrastructure, leaving most citizens without running water, electricity, or access to health or educational facilities. The national treasury was empty, and there was little chance that Liberia's businessmen would return. Sixty thousand former fighters were growing restless while unemployed; hostilities lingered after years of ethnic rivalry; and some $2 billion-$3 billion was owed in foreign debt. In addition, more than 750,000 people, many of them orphans, had been left homeless after years of fighting.

ANN M. BELASKI

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▪ president of Liberia
born January 27, 1948, Liberia

      Liberian politician and guerrilla leader, who served as Liberia's president from 1997 until he was forced into exile in 2003. He was widely held responsible for the country's devastating civil war during the 1990s.

      Taylor was the son of a judge, a member of the elite in Liberia descended from the freed American slaves who colonized the region in the early 19th century. He attended college in the United States, where in 1977 he received a degree in economics from Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts. He then became the director of Liberia's General Services Administration under President Samuel K. Doe (Doe, Samuel K), the military leader who had gained power in a bloody coup in 1980. In 1983 Doe accused Taylor of having embezzled nearly $1 million, and the following year Taylor fled to the United States, where he was jailed. Before he could be extradited, he escaped and subsequently appeared in Libya, where he formed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a militia group that invaded the country in late 1989.

      Taylor's forces advanced on the capital of Monrovia in 1990, but his bid for power was checked by rival groups. Doe was killed in the fighting, and for the next seven years the armed factions fought a brutal civil war in which more than 150,000 people were killed and more than half of the population became refugees. Although the NPFL never took the capital, it controlled the countryside and its rich natural resources. The fighting also spilled over into neighbouring Sierra Leone, and at one point the Economic Community of West African States attempted to intervene with peacekeeping troops. A 1996 peace pact led to elections on July 19, 1997. Critics accused Taylor of unfair tactics, including giving handouts to the largely impoverished and illiterate electorate, but he won the election with 75 percent of the votes.

      As president, Taylor restructured the army, filling it with members of his former militia. Conflict ensued between Taylor and the opposition, and Monrovia became the scene of widespread gun battles and looting. Governments around the world accused Taylor of supporting rebels in Sierra Leone, and in 2000 the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberia. The country was subsequently gripped again by civil war, and Taylor, accused of gross human rights violations, was indicted by a UN-sponsored war-crimes tribunal. Following widespread international condemnation, Taylor agreed to go into exile in Nigeria. In March 2006, however, the Liberian government requested Taylor's extradition, and Nigeria announced it would comply with the order. Taylor subsequently attempted to flee Nigeria but was quickly captured. Charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, he was later sent to The Hague, where he was to be tried before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The trial began in June 2007, despite Taylor's refusal to appear in court for the opening session.

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Universalium. 2010.

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